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Former Cowgirl standout Johnson using extra time before Olympic trials to work on strength, speed

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Sinclair mid race (copy) (copy)

Sinclaire Johnson (right), the 2019 NCAA champion in the women's 1,500-meter race, is striving to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games, which have been postponed to 2021.

Sinclaire Johnson is sticking to her plan, but the timeline has extended to next year.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted sports schedules, Johnson, a former star on the Oklahoma State women’s track and field team, had been striving to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. She had met the qualifying standard in the 1,500-meter race, so she was preparing for the Olympic trials in June, when she would need to place in the top three to earn a spot on Team USA.

Then the starting date of the Games was delayed to July 23, 2021, because of concerns regarding the novel coronavirus, so the trials have been postponed as well. Johnson said she wasn’t surprised to see this news. Although she must wait a year to see whether her Olympic dreams will come true, she is keeping a positive attitude as she continues to run.

“I think for me, my preparation won’t change much,” Johnson said. “Just focusing on getting stronger and faster. We’re going to basically keep training this year as if there was going to be a season and just kind of simulate races here as much as we can.”

Although Johnson chose to forgo her senior year of eligibility so she could launch her professional career, she is still part of the OSU community. As a first-year pro athlete who runs for Nike, she continues to live in Stillwater, where she is finishing her economics degree program and training with OSU coach Dave Smith. Johnson also has a professional training partner, a woman who travels from Oklahoma City to work out with her.

Races have been canceled and postponed, but for Johnson, this is no time to take extra breaks from running. She said her routine consists of about six or seven consecutive weeks of rigorous training before one less demanding week.

“We’re doing a lot more intensity and a lot more volume of workouts now just because there’s no races to taper for or get ready for,” Johnson said. “So we can keep the intensity and volume up, which is a lot different. Because last year, I would have a hard week of training and then an easy week of training because I would have a race that week, and it would kind of flip on and off like that.”

Johnson is new to the pro scene, but becoming an Olympic runner became a realistic objective for her when she was a member of the Cowgirl track team. To make the Olympics, it wouldn’t matter whether she was a professional or collegiate athlete.

“When I started running here at OSU as a freshman, (competing in the Olympics) was totally out of the realm, so I wasn’t really thinking about the Olympics,” Johnson said. “Probably about my junior year, like beginning of junior year, was when I started to think … not focus on it, but, ‘That’s definitely a goal of mine.’”

During that junior season, Johnson’s career skyrocketed. Her time of four minutes, 5.98 seconds, a meet record in the 1,500, made her a 2019 NCAA champion.

In July, Johnson finished fourth at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Although she was one spot short of qualifying for the World Championships, she realized she could hold her own as a young athlete racing against seasoned runners. The next month, Johnson announced she was going pro.

Because she is in the process of adapting to life as a professional athlete, she said it’s beneficial for her that the Games will take place next year when she has more experience. In October, Johnson will go through another big change when she moves to Portland, Ore., to become part of a professional track and field group, but until then, she is continuing her workouts in Stillwater.

“I’m sure that will be a different kind of adjustment and new lifestyle out there (in Portland) just running and not doing school,” Johnson said. “It will be exciting.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com